`Trash Talking' Led to Football Player's Scuffle, Lawyer Says The Michigan State Athlete Was Needling a UF Fan After The Game But Did Nothing Criminal, His Attorney Contends
By Gwyneth K. Shaw | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted Jan 4, 2000
A Michigan State football player accused in a downtown scuffle was needling a Florida fan about the Gators' loss - not trying to snatch a purse, his lawyer said Monday.
Siitupe Peko, 21, a starting offensive lineman for the Spartans, and Milton Peko, 28, his brother, were released Monday after posting $4,500 and $3,500 bonds, respectively. Their lawyer, Mark NeJame, said the pair will return to California, where Milton Peko lives.
NeJame said the Saturday-night scuffle began when Siitupe Peko began heckling a Gator fan. The Spartans had defeated the University of Florida in the Florida Citrus Bowl earlier in the day.
" The whole thing is insane," NeJame said. "The whole thing started because everybody was just trash talking. He [Siitupe Peko) was doing some good-natured trash talking and then, apparently, it escalated. But he did nothing criminal."
The charges facing the brothers are second- and third-degree felonies. Siitupe Peko, 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, is charged with robbery by snatching, two counts of simple battery, and battery on a law-enforcement officer.
Milton Peko also is charged with robbery and resisting arrest without violence.
An Orlando man and woman said the brothers approached them, yelling obscenities, as they walked through Church Street Station, on West Church Street near Orange Avenue. Charlene Martinez told police Siitupe Peko snatched her handbag from her shoulder and pushed her. Her companion, Julio Gueits, said Milton Peko pushed him.
When police caught up with the brothers a few minutes later, Siitupe Peko head-butted an officer, according to police reports.
Martinez could not be reached for comment Monday. Gueits declined to discuss the incident.
NeJame said Siitupe Peko wasn't after her purse, didn't run and may have accidentally hit the officer.
Michigan State football coach Bobby Williams commented for the first time since Siitupe Peko's arrest early Sunday, saying in a written statement that he was "disappointed and disturbed" by the matter.
An assistant athletic director for the school remained in Orlando to keep an eye on the situation.
The rest of the Michigan State team went home Sunday.
At a hearing Monday afternoon, Orange County Judge Deb Blechman initially set higher bonds for the pair, saying they were a flight risk because they live outside Florida. But NeJame convinced Blechman that the pair will return.
A story about Siitupe Peko in the Detroit Free Press last year said Milton Peko has effectively been his guardian since their parents moved to American Samoa several years ago.
The junior college All-American earned the starting job at left tackle at the Spartans' spring practice, the paper reported.
Spartans coach Williams, whose first game as head coach was the Citrus Bowl, expressed regret at the arrest but declined to comment on the details until he had seen the police report.
According to Michigan State's athletic code of conduct, however, Siitupe Peko's football career would be over if he is convicted of a felony.
" That most certainly wasn't the last impression I wanted our football team to leave with the Orlando community," Williams said in the statement. "We spent two weeks in Orlando with 177 players preparing for the bowl game, and we didn't have any off-the-field problems ... This arrest certainly is out of character."
Source: Orlando Sentinel